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Parmesan Baked Penne with Chicken & Basil Pesto

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A couple weeks ago I had the privalege of hosting a group of ladies for a Chocolate Broccoli cooking class.  These ladies are apart of a great fitness program called Baby Boot Camp, that provides them a challenging workout post-baby that doesn’t require hiring a personal trainer and a babysitter, or even making the commitment of joining a gym.  I personally cannot wait to find and join fellow mommy’s after my first little one {2012 is our year, we hope!}  The Allen/Frisco chapter hosts a Mommy Fit Challenge..kind of like a Biggest Loser, I assume-and this year I had the privaledge of being the grand prize for the winner.  Well.. my cooking did, not me, per say.

That would have been weird ;)

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Anyway.. It was requested that I provide an easy meal that super picky kiddos, and a husband demanding serious flavor and yum-factor in his meals.  Something to get out of that ‘Let’s just have sandwiches..‘ rut.

I didn’t even have to think twice about what I would make for these gals.  Baked Penne.  A no-fail recipe that is so easy, quick, always delicious, and one that I make for all my potlucks and (ironically) new mommy friends in need of a casserole meal.

While driving out to meet these ladies, I started to think of ways to tweak and change this versatile baked pasta dish.  What other flavors and ways could I make this just as healthy and delicious as the original?

This way, actually.

I tossed and turned that night until I got up to write this recipe down before I lost it..  After I made it for my Fireman and me- the only words I have are good gracious.

Sauteed onions, garlic, and mushrooms.. again.. if there was a candle in this flavor..

I thickened up my skim milk with some all-purpose flour, and popped my lower fat version of an alfredo sauce with two kinds of pepper.
 After my onions and mushrooms softened up a bit {golden and delicious} I poured in the milk mixture.
Bubbly..bubbly, bubble away until thick and creamy.  Doesn’t take long, about 3 minutes or so after you bring it to a low boil.
Add in your cheeeeeeese.  Love me some cheese :)
Cooked penne pasta, and pre-cooked and shredded chicken.  I cooked off my chicken breasts in my slow-cooker and shredded it earlier in the week.  So awesome.
{5 whole frozen breasts, fat-free, lower sodium chicken stock, garlic powder, black pepper.. on LOW for 8 hours.  Done and done.}
You can easily use any ribbed pasta you please- the ribbing helps the sauce to stick to the noodles.  So whatever you choose, get one with the ribs.
Store bought pesto works great.. I made my own gorgeous green version {recipe below}, and kept it stored in my fridge until ready for use.
Gigantic fingers is what you get when I am taking my own pictures.  I am a routine multi-tasker.  I had a glass of wine balanced on my head when I took this picture, too.
Not really.  But that would be a great party trick.
Want to come over for some wine?  I could try and balance it on my head, if you like.
Or.. fresh basil could call for an awesome version of a Mojito if you prefer hard liquor over wine.
But, I think the wine would go best with this baked pasta dish.
Winner.  For sure.
I think I’ll be adding this into my regular rotation of potluck/casserole/new-mommy meals from now on.   It was so simple- and no canned goods or pre-made sauces were included.
So, what are you waiting for?  Go get these ingredients and make this for yourself. Now.
Sorry to be so pushy.  But I don’t lie (and neither does my Fireman) when I say this was simply outstanding.

Parmesan Baked Penne

with Chicken & Basil Pesto
1 lb uncooked whole wheat penne (or other tube shaped pasta)
2 cups skim milk
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash of ground red pepper (cayenne)
1 tablespoon butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
8 ounces baby Bella mushrooms, sliced
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup (2 ounces) 1/3 less fat cream cheese
2 cups shredded, cooked chicken breast meat
1/3 cup fresh prepared basil pesto (recipe follows) OR 1/3 cup commercial pesto
½ cup shredded part skim mozzarella cheese
½ cup chopped fresh basil
Cook fettuccine as directed on package, omitting salt. Drain; reserving ½ cup cooking liquid.  Return to saucepan. Cover to keep warm; set aside. Meanwhile, in medium bowl, stir milk, flour, salt, black pepper and red pepper with wire whisk until smooth.
In a large skillet pan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add onion; cook 6 minutes, stirring often. Add garlic and mushrooms, and sauté until mushrooms and onions are soft. With wire whisk, stir milk mixture into butter mixture in saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat 6 to 8 minutes or until mixture thickens and boils. Stir in cream cheese until melted. Stir in Parmesan cheese until melted.
Add cooked pasta and chicken to the cream sauce mixture; adding reserved pasta water as needed for consistency. Layer ½ of the pasta into a 9×13 pan coated in cooking spray.  Spread prepared pesto over pasta mixture.  Sprinkle with ¼ cup mozzarella.  Layer remaining pasta and top with remaining ¼ cup mozzarella. 
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, until bubbly and cheese in melted through. Remove from oven and serve with a sprinkle of fresh basil as desired.
Fresh Basil Pesto

2 ¾ cups loosely packed basil leaves (about 6 bunches)
3 tablespoons (about 1/2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
The juice of ½ of a lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced

Drop pine nuts and garlic through food chute with food processor on, and process until minced. Add basil, cheese, and lemon juice; process until finely minced. With processor on, slowly pour oil through food chute; process until well-blended. Spoon into a zip-top heavy-duty plastic bag; store in refrigerator, or freezer until ready for use.

Nutrition Information: makes 1 cup; (serving size: 1 tablespoon) Calories: 35; Fat: 3.4 g; Protein: 1 g
Nutrition Information:
(Using homemade Fresh Basil Pesto recipe)
Serves 8 (1 1/4 cup each)
Calories: 404
Fat: 10 g
Carbohydrate: 49 g
Fiber: 9 g
Protein: 27 g 


  1. Mix and Match Mama says:

    You know how I love Baby Boot Camp!! Three year member here :). And you know how I love a baked pasta dish!!

  2. SkinnyMommy says:

    Sounds like so much fun! This dish looks fabulous too!

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  4. Made this meal tonight and it was amazing! Everyone loved it. Thanks for the recipe and all the inspirations on your site!

  5. Amber,
    I made this dish tonight and it was super tasty. Thanks!
    I have an unrelated question for you. In the picture that shows the flour, milk, peppers, etc. I really like your backsplash. Where did you purchase that particular backsplash and what was the name of the color scheme? Thanks. I am looking for a backsplash to go with our kitchen.


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